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I think the item that best addresses bigjoe’s query is:
“By the early 1910’s, perhaps 100 theaters built for movies had gone up in New York City.”
saps posted this on the Variety Photoplays pages in 2006:
saps on March 23, 2006 at 4:23 am
Here is the text of J.P. Valensi’s excellent post:
STREETSCAPES: Variety Photo Plays Theater; Marquee’s Lights Are Dark on 1914 ‘Nickelodeon’
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY
Published: September 3, 1989
IT’S hard to put your finger on what was special about it. Perhaps it was the aura of the early days of the movies, but the 1914 Variety Photo Plays Theater at 110 Third Avenue was unforgettable when it was in operation.
Now the theater’s distinctive lightbulb marquee is dark, the property is vacant and being shown to potential buyers and, according to Michael Lerner, the leasing agent, a final decision – to sell, net lease or demolish the building – will come on Sept. 12.
The earliest movie theaters were just ad hoc alterations of spaces of opportunity, like a saloon or a storefront. According to the theater historian Michael R. Miller, these turn-of-the-century nickelodeons, where admission was usually nickel, were not superseded by specifically built movie theaters until 1908, when the Nicholand and Prospect Pleasure Palace went up in the Bronx.
By the early 1910’s, perhaps 100 theaters built for movies had gone up in New York City. They were good businesses and clustered near high-traffic sites. In 1914, one promoter, Jacob Valensi, secured a 15-year lease on a plot on the west side of Third Avenue, just south of the 14th Street stop of the elevated. There he built a two-story theater, according to Mr. Miller’s research, on a site previously occupied by a theater operation. Although filed as a new building, the theater actually used some of the perimeter walls of an older structure; the theater could in some ways be considered to pre-date 1914.
In its name – Valensi’s Variety Photo Plays – it sought an association with legitimate theater endeavors, of which 14th Street had been a center since the 1850’s.
Designed by Louis Sheinart, the exterior of Variety Photo Plays was in plain brick, generally unornamented except for arcaded piers projecting above a sloping tiled false roof. Mr. Miller called Sheinart ‘'a minor, minor architect of many, many theaters’‘ in this period.
Inside, the auditorium was fairly plain, but did have a slightly pitched floor and fixed seats, still novel touches in an industry that had started only recently with plain benches and sheets hung on a wall.
It is not clear if the walls have lost some architectural effect – they are now mostly patched plaster – but the ceiling is covered with modestly patterned pressed tin. Four large Tiffany-type half-globe lighting fixtures have somehow survived, and the simple fixed seats bear a ‘'V’‘ on the end panels.
There are rooftop louvered vents, still remote-controlled with chains that hang down in the middle of the theater, and a great square panel in the center, perhaps 30 feet across, is what remains of a sliding roof used in the days before air-conditioning.
Variety Photo Plays originally seated 450 and, according to Mr. Miller, probably first presented groups of two-reelers, collections of individual features, each 15 or 20 minutes long. This was at a period when the feature-length film was still uncommon and films in general were generally considered low-culture – ‘'photo plays’‘ or not.
By the early 1920’s, nickelodeons like the Variety Photo Plays were being supplanted by larger houses seating one or two thousand, and if the Variety was ever a first-rank theater, it surely must have begun a downward slide at that time.
In 1923, a marquee was added, designed by Julius Eckman. In 1930, a balcony seating 150 and a new lobby were installed by the architects Boak & Paris, who also made over the 1923 marquee. The lobby is nondescript neo-Renaissance and it is the marquee that has made the theater special, at least to modern eyes. Boak & Paris did not change the Eckman marquee’s underside, a coffered field with regularly spaced bulbs, but did add a zigzag Art Deco fascia in enameled metal and neon lighting. The fascia gives the theater’s, rather than the show’s, name and recalls the period when movies were more of a generic product. The lights buzzing on the underside of the marquee, when they were on, enveloped the passerby in a warm, glowing field. People going past the theater, even in the daytime, got a whiff of vintage celluloid, and at night it was intoxicating.
HE film fare over the last 30 years gradually shifted from B-grade to raunchy to naughty to pornographic, and added a slightly forbidden, Coney Island spice to the building. A 10-year-old schoolboy who somehow found himself on lower Third Avenue would walk straight by but keep his eyes glued to the pictures on the billboards outside the ticket booth.
Earlier this year the Department of Health closed the Variety Photo Plays, which was operating as a gay movie theater. Now it is still and musty inside, its 1940’s candy machine empty, its projection booth a small museum of antique apparatus – carbon arc projection lighting was discontinued only a few years ago. The owner, the 110-112 Third Avenue Realty Corporation, includes members of the same families who owned it since the 1920’s. In their hands lies the fate of a institution that will live on at least in the memories of many New Yorkers.
bigjoe, I think you are talking about short-lived storefront nickelodeons.
I think the confusion comes from this NYT article.
[In 1949, Norman Elson, who was then the president of the competing Trans-Lux chain, took over the Newsreel theaters.
‘'That was just the beginning of TV,’‘ Peter Elson recalled, ’‘and he saw that newsreels were not much longer for the world.’‘ Norman Elson remodeled the theater and reopened it as the Guild.]
If you search for the ART or MOVIELAND you can get Cantor Film Center, its current name, as an option. The problem is you need to know that it is now called that in order to find it.
Bigjoe59, there was the ART (Movieland 8th Street) further down.
Anyone who would dismiss Times Square based on their disapproval of what may be happening on the fringes is seriously closed minded, and this poster had already admitted to that. Most of it still happens today behind the facade of the new Disneyscape, as vice never dies.
I never understood the mindset that could blame a sexuality transmitted disease on a building. I suppose if we shut down the Port Authority in Times Square it would end teenage prostitution in America.
AIDS is still thriving in many parts of the world without a porn cinema in sight, including sections of NY and LA.
“I seriously doubt if anyone in an adult theater spent any time admiring the proscenium.”
Check out the Adonis page and you will find out you are also wrong about that, aside from being homophobic, racist and apparently fattist.
“It was really unique and will never be duplicated.”
I have to agree….
Saps, I understand your well intended contribution. It is what makes cinematreasures work for many of us.
Moviemanforever, what are you afraid of? It happened already, buddy! Please tell us what your roll was or stay away and deny.
This is great news!
The NY Times mentions plans for a new Lincoln Center Cinerama location back in 1962. That,of course, never happened.
Could it be the Majestic in Jersey City you are thinking of?
Dave, the marquee on the front right is actually the Anco. Note that the Roxy and the Modells' both moved on 42nd street over the years.
There was a Majestic (Woolworth)further north on Second Avenue. Here
Eighty two years ago.
A February 21, 1960 NY Times article on the Roxy closing makes this interesting observation:
“The poor old Roxy was never too successful, sandwiched as it is between the Scylla of the older capitol and the Charybdis of the newer Music Hall. Its various programs of pictures with stage shows (and without stage shows) have had to compete with programs that have usually been a little better at one or the other of those near-by theatres.”
It’s hard to get a photo of this theatre without STOMP on the marquee. It has been playing for 18 years.
MarkieS, sounds like it could have been part of the Theatre Unique but I haven’t seen any sign it was ever called the Lyric.
Thank you, Ed. I understand the post now.
By the way, I also thank you for teaching me how to hyperlink!
On a personal note, I think you would ‘need’ to see this:
I don’t know how to buffer it. It hurts too much.
Ed, I think “Tom Sawyer” holds up. The rest, not so much.
I guess I mapped the 2nd Avenue on the east side of the street for some reason but that well be that theatre. It says BENEFIT TICKETS on the banner above.
Ed, Ron3853 ran this on July 18, 2004.
I then ran this in 2008:
THE SUNSHINE BOYS ran until January 22, 1976
March 12- May 12, 1976 ROBIN AND MARIAN
May 13- June 3, 1976 THE BLUE BIRD
June 4- June 17, 1976 1776
June 18- July 28, 1976 HARRY & WALTER GO TO NEW YORK
July 29- Sept 15, 1976 SWASHBUCKLER
Sept 16- October 6, 1976 PAPER TIGER
October 7- November 3, 1976 A MATTER OF TIME
November 4-January 12, 1977 THE SLIPPER AND THE ROSE
March 3- March 30, 1977 MR. BILLION
March 31 – April 27, 1977 THE LITTLEST HORSE THIEVES
April 28- May 18, 1977 THE STING
May 19- June 29, 1977 SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT
June 30- September 15, 1977 MacARTHUR
November 3- January 11, 1978 PETE’S DRAGON
March 2- April 16, 1978 CROSSED SWORDS
April 27- May 17, 1978 THE SEA GYSPSIES
May 18- June 21, 1978 FANTASIA
June 22- August 2, 1978 MATILDA
August 3- ? THE MAGIC OF LASSIE
November 2- January 17, 1979 CARAVANS
March 8 – April 25, 1979 THE PROMISE